Recently Featured Essays:  

Night Watch

by Paul Pekin

I'm no good at political arguments, one side always right, the other always wrong. The current uproar over police shootings finds me outside my comfort zone, finds me disagreeing with very good friends. "I'd like to see," I told someone I very much like and hardly want to quarrel with, "I'd like to see Jon Stewart make a traffic stop on a dark lonely road, walk up to the driver's window, and make that arrest."

"That's not what we’re saying," she replied, with some heat. Of course there were good police officers, and no one was blaming them, she acknowledged. It was just that …

My side of the argument was lost before I could find words for it. Could this be because, after many years and many jobs, I finished my working life as police officer? Not something I ever planned on doing, but a man needs work, health insurance, a shot at a pension, and sometimes you take what is out there. Life, you know, happens.

So I stay out of these arguments. They bring me back to the days when I drove a beat, wore a uniform, carried a weapon, and was expected to routinely do things I never, in all my life, planned on doing. Such arguments feel personal to me.

Read: "Night Watch"

 

Kitchen Elegy

by Jean Ryan

I need to write a cook book, a friend has told me. By this she does not mean recipes, she means secrets. The kind only cooks know.

We worked for the same catering company, this woman and I, and she wants me to tell our story, to tell the story of all cooks. She wants me to lay bare the work we did so that someone might acknowledge it.

I understand this. I spent sixteen years as a line cook and four years as a caterer, and when I finally left the cooking profession, scarred and exhausted, no one noticed. After two decades of hard labor, I wanted to see some mention of it: a note in the local paper, a plaque with my name newly etched. All those thousands of mouths I fed—didn’t they add up to anything? They did not. Like a plate of food, I was there and gone.

Line cooking is a sort of magic act. Before you are eight sauté pans, smoking and bubbling, and a grill loaded with meat and fish in various stages of readiness, and somehow, amid the firing of orders, you are delivering every one of these dishes in the right combination at the right time. You have no idea how you’re doing this; you’re moving too fast for thought. Suddenly a cowering server appears. He has dropped a plate and needs a re-fire. For a second you look at him without comprehension, and then a murderous rage floods your body. Your tickets have turned into a blizzard. You will not find your way back.

Read: "Kitchen Elegy"

 

 

 

 

 

Existential River

by Daniel W. Weinrich

            “You don't drown by falling in the water;

             you drown by staying there.”

The headlines today told of how somebody went missing in the Snake River. I’m not sure if there was alcohol involved, but there’s a damn good likelihood someone was stewed to the gills when they hit the water and sank to the bottom. The message gets repeated. “Don’t drink and boat, or don’t drink and swim, or don’t drink and drive and so on.” In spite of the warning, people still decide to take nasty risks.

A few years ago, a guy I knew, a drinker and a non-swimmer, climbed on a rubber raft to float the frigid water of the Snake River with four other people. Ready for the party, they also dragged along two ice chests full of beer. Oh, and no life vests.  

I can hear them now: “Life vests are for pussies.”

A beer fell off the raft and my friend dived in after it.

Fast forward twelve hours when search and rescue dragged the river for his body.

Here’s something: Instead of having to pull old dental records to identify his body, he owned one distinguishing mark. “Existentialist” was tattooed in big block letters on his back.

Read: "Existential River"

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